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ULI Smart Growth Symposium

Carol M. Browner, Administrator Environmental Protection Agency Remarks Prepared for Delivery ULI Smart Growth Symposium
Chicago, Ill.
                         April 19, 1999
     Good afternoon. I'm happy to be here at this Incentives for Smart Growth Symposium and pleased that EPA is co-sponsoring this important event.

     I'd like to take a moment to recognize some of the people who helped put this meeting together: I'd like to thank our Conference Chair, Charlie Shaw, CEO of Shaw Company, for all his time. And I'd like to thank Michael Pawlukiewicz (Pavlakevich), Scott Goldstein and Steve Friedman, all of the Urban Land Institute; and MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, who helped plan and organize today's meeting.

     I'd also like to say hello to Mayor Watson and thank him again for hosting a similar, and very successful, conference in Austin last year. It's good to see you again.

     Before I talk to you about the Clinton Administration's vision for the future of our communities, I'd like to take a moment to talk about the past.

     A few weeks ago I was in Beijing, meeting with Chinese officials on many of the same issues that concern everyone here in this room. How do we develop our communities, create jobs and still keep the environment healthy?

     But something else struck me as I walked around Beijing. I was in a city that had more than 3,000 years of history behind it. Three thousand years!

     That made me think of other cities, like Athens, London, Paris, or Rome -- and countless smaller towns and communities -- that were built in antiquity yet will enter the 21st Century still thriving.

     You know, the oldest community in the United States is St. Augustine in my home state of Florida. It was founded by the Spanish in 1565, so it's just 434 years old. Chicago -- one of our great cities -- was just a trading post when it was founded in 1779 -- just 220 years ago.

     Imagine living in a place that measures its history not in mere centuries, but in millennia.

     And what is it that allowed these ancient cities to remain vibrant on the cusp of yet another new millennium? When you look at their histories, there were no guarantees they were going to make it. Many didn't. Anyone tried to visit Troy lately?

     I think one of the reasons these cities and towns continue to stand strong is that at crucial times in their pasts, their citizens confronted their problems and decided to invest in their community's future, while others ignored signs of decline, hoping some future generation would take care of it.

     Well, I'm afraid that for too many years we did ignore our communities here in the United States and didn't strive hard enough to make them more livable as times changed. But since taking office, President Clinton and Vice President Gore have put us on the right path toward turning this around.

     Our brownfields program is cleaning up and revitalizing abandoned industrial properties in 250 communities around the country. This program has leveraged more than $1 billion in public and private funds, created thousands of new jobs and turned idle land back to productive and profitable use. And it has helped spare green spaces in nearby suburbs from the kind of development that swallowed up 4.3 million acres of our nation's prime and unique farmland in one 10-year span.

     Under this Administration, nationwide we have cleaned up three times more Superfund sites than the previous Administrations did in 12 years. In fact, nearly 90 percent of all Superfund sites have either been completed or the cleanup is in progress.

     But there's more to do. We need to work even harder to make our communities more livable. As we move farther and farther away from our town and city centers, we lose our sense of community, of neighborhood. And traffic congestion is costing us billions of dollars in wasted time and fuel.

     The President and Vice President understand this and have proposed a plan that will take us into the future by rediscovering the joys of our past -- a past when cities and towns exerted a gravity that kept commerce and culture swirling nearby rather than hurtling ever outward.

     As part of the "Livability Agenda" outlined in his State of the Union address, President Clinton announced some new tools to revitalize life within our urban and suburban areas. One of these tools is called Better America Bonds, a program in which EPA will take the lead in consultation with other Administration departments and agencies.

     Better America Bonds offers a creative way for states and communities to purchase land so they can preserve open space, create parks, clean up brownfields and improve water quality by preserving wetlands or creating forest buffers to protect streams -- or all those things together. It's very flexible.

     Simply put, the Better America Bonds is about the simplest law you could write to do the greatest amount of good. It's just a quick addition to the tax code.

     With Better America Bonds, states and local governments will be able to issue nearly $10 billion bonds and pay no interest. And they can wait 15 years before paying back the principal. Investors who buy the bonds receive from the federal government receive tax credits equal to the amount of the interest.

     Could it be any easier?

     Let me stress, this is not a radical "big government" plan. Last November, voters across the country  adopted more than 150 "green" state and local ballot initiatives. We are simply following their lead and taking their innovative thinking nationwide.

     And we will not micromanage local decisions. Under the Better America Bonds program, the federal government will not add a single square-inch of  land to its inventory. All purchases will be made by state and local governments.

     But Better America Bonds are just one part of the Administration's "livability" agenda.

     There is also a large new transportation investment -- $1.6 billion -- to reduce congestion, encourage transit and improve air quality. There will also be grants available to localities for "smart growth" planning.

     We simply have to do something to break the traffic gridlock that now snarls both commuters and commerce. You know, I saw a picture in the Washington Post a while back that made me laugh. A child was strapped into a nice plush seat in a van with a drink at his side and a television set in front of him.

     Now, as a mother I've got to admit that is kind of a tempting plan. But, still, think about that image for a moment. Driving has become such a consuming and tedious experience that we are actually moving our living rooms into our vehicles!

     Okay, it's not quite that bad. But it's bad. A recent study said that drivers in certain urban areas waste the equivalent of one to two work weeks a year just sitting in traffic. In the Chicago area, drivers lose 42 hours a year sitting idle in traffic jams. Overall, 600 million hours a year are wasted here in the Chicago area traffic, making it number three in the country in time lost.

     Now I've heard it said that trying to tackle the problems of traffic congestion is not a federal issue. I disagree. While states and communities should be making the decisions on how best to manage environmental protection and economic growth, the federal government can provide the tools and resources they need to solve these problems that do have national implications.

     First, there is a human cost here. We're talking about one to two full working weeks that we spend sitting in traffic with strangers rather than sitting around the kitchen table with our families.

     But there's an economic cost as well. Nationally, drivers stuck in traffic wasted more than six billion gallons of fuel in 1996, according to a study by the Texas Transportation Institute. That's enough to fill 670,000 gasoline tank trucks or 134 super tankers.

     When you combine both the wasted time with the wasted fuel, the cost to the economy is almost $74 billion.

     Think of that -- $74 billion literally up in smoke. How many schools could we build or renovate with that money? How many college educations could we pay for?

     So this is what the President and Vice President's livability agenda is about. Helping our communities create a better quality of life for our working families, a better environment for business, and all the while protecting our health and preserving our natural wonders.

     And this program will not only help create jobs, it will help our communities retain them. Companies like to locate in livable areas because it's easier to attract and hold on to talented employees.

     I know that many of you here today are members of the National Association of Homebuilders and I want to take a moment to recognize your contributions to building livable communities. Last February the NAHB, along with Vice President Gore and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, announced a goal of building one million additional market-rate housing units in the nation's cities and inner-ring suburbs.

     I agree with NAHB that this will not address all of our nation's housing needs. Smart growth does not mean no growth. But your efforts will take some of the pressure off of our undeveloped green spaces and farm lands.

     You know, I started off  talking about history and key decisions certain societies made that kept their communities on a path towards progress. Let me give you an example that I just learned and found fascinating. In 310 B.C. the Romans set out on an ambitious plan to build aqueducts. The system they finally built supplied Rome with 38 million gallons of fresh water per day. On a per-capita basis, that would rival many modern cities.

     And do you know what? Some of them still work -- after more that 2,000 years, some of those aqueducts still work, providing water to the fountains of Rome. Wouldn't everyone in this room like to think that something you did in your lifetime would last to the year 4,000.

     Well, you can. Think about this for a minute. The people who got together to build the aqueducts would have been much like the people in this room today. There would have been government officials, engineers, builders, trades people, and financial and logistical experts.

     A group of you here today could go back to your communities and start planning on how to take a brownfield and turn it into a park. And that park can last forever. The best thing about mother nature is that -- if cared for -- she has a nearly infinite design life. And that park could become the anchor of a livable and thriving community.

     And hundreds of years from now, a family might be strolling through that park you helped build. They might marvel at the tall stands of trees, and the well designed footpaths that lead to green open spaces where neighbors gather on a nice spring day. And they might walk by
the dedication marker that was placed there on the park's opening day and say: "Wow! They really knew how to build them back in the year 2000 didn't they."

     This can be a legacy you leave not just in the new century -- now only 256 days away -- but to the century after that, and the century after, and on and on to the next millennium.

     We just want to give you the tools to build that legacy.

     Thank you.